by Robin Wyatt Dunn
The Anne Sippi clinic is in El Sereno in east Los Angeles, a quiet middle class neighborhood, where crazy people can come to live.
Crazy is not the PC term, of course, but still appropriate, even more if we were Japanese, in their reverence for broken things. Crazy comes from Old Norse ‘to shatter,’ after all.
The Japanese put gold at the broken places; and so it is in Los Angeles, our golden sunlight the balm still sought by so many thousands year after year, a pyramid scheme and a hustle but still also a genuine shelter, from the world.
I have the only single room, because I am not staying long. Every day the other residents stop by to tell me that they have been looking at the room, and will soon get it.
Thompson observes in Fear and Loathing that 1970 or so was the high water mark in the social and drugs revolution, where the tide broke, leaving us detritus on the beach. Los Angeles serves a similar fate, this bastion of the American Dream sublimed into our lust for fame and madness, but tempered by the Spanish culture of the city, excluded for long enough by a racist America that its values have nothing much to do with Hollywood and its empire and so are immune to its diseases.
This is why Anne Sippi is a strong place, nestled in what some would term “a bad area” but which is just a family neighborhood, with a quiet corner store that doesn’t mind serving the crazies, come down for their cigarettes.
Unlike so many nuthouses in America, Anne Sippi has open doors: you can wander off whenever you feel like it. Get drunk, get high, come back, sober up, as you like. Though most of the residents stay on the grounds talking to themselves.
Like so many medical establishments, mental health was hit hard by the Reagan era and the following drive to get rich from medicine. So, one of the ways you can tell whether the quality of the care you will receive in a nuthouse is how run-down the place looks. If it looks bad, it’s a good place. If it looks polished, it will be a living hell.
Anne Sippi doesn’t look bad, just tired. Which is okay: we’re tired here.
I talk with the psychotherapist once a week there, and unlike other shrinks, whose chief concerns in my experience are either to a) sell more drugs or b) convince you that you’re sick, he only wants to listen, and to encourage me to get well, however I am able. A man with common sense, like Bernie Sanders, tragic because the personality type now seems so alien in the American landscape.
We line up quietly at night for our medicines but no one chases us down; no one, as I have seen happen elsewhere, is ejected to be homeless when they refuse to swallow.
Our doors are not locked.
I have had my car returned and am able to drive it on the freeways of Los Angeles, looking for work. I listen to the radio.
Most are “hard luck” cases, taken in here because no one else would have them. People too stubborn to quit, too much their own thing, too weird, too obstreperous, too loud, too creative, too ugly, old and poor, too happy, too jokey, too young, too everything, now rounded up in our few dozen bodies, and deposited with quiet ceremony to live as we like.
Most too are “lifers,” on disability, unlikely to live independently some would say, but many of them remain ambitious in that way, slowly winding their way through the corridors of the system, remaining interested in their treatment—that crucial ingredient which can only happen when you are free to choose your own health.
Force is anathema to healing.
This American legacy, of force, hovers over everything we do. I am glad there are still some places to escape it.
In many ways Anne Sippi epitomizes my experience of Los Angeles; the only city I have ever visited which withholds judgment.
Los Angeles is not sure about it yet. Not sure about you yet. You may be okay.
Yes, you will do crazy things. Run down the street naked if you like. I have. We are not surprised. Sometimes people do funny things. Los Angeles is prepared.
The heat too is crucial in the psychology of Los Angeles; often too hot to think, we can sit silently in meditation. There is no need to be angry; we can seek stillness in whatever form most pleases us: Buddhist meditation, beer and weed, a walk in the park, barbeques in the public parks, overflowing with bodies, calm and contained, mad inside, with some knowledge I am unable to capture.
Of course it is a sad place in a number of ways; these are hard luck cases. It is not easy to be hard luck. We can not blame each other for demanding why these afflictions came; we can only wait for the shouting to quiet, for them to come around to a state of mind where they can find their own answers.
Medicine is poorly understood. It is not chemical. It is social. It makes more sense to me than ever that “witch doctors” sang to the sick, especially the mad.
A song says: you are here, and so am I. This is a story I am telling you. I hope it makes you feel better.
About the Author:
Robin Wyatt Dunn lives in Los Angeles.
About the Series:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as “queer,” while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream.